Care researchers

3 common pitfalls of dementia research grant applications

Alzheimer's Society has supported over 500 research projects across the UK, investing over £10 million a year in dementia research. Unfortunately, we can't fund every grant application we receive. Learn why some applications may not be successful, and gain some tips to avoid application rejection.

The reality of research funding

At Alzheimer’s Society, we are dedicated to transforming the lives of everyone affected by dementia through funding discoveries in dementia diagnosis, treatment and prevention. 

Our research programme provides research grants for all career levels across our biomedical and care, services and public health streams. 

It’s no secret that the grant funding rounds are competitive. Last year, only 15 per cent of project grant applications were funded.

Our rigorous review process and involvement of people affected by dementia at every stage ensures we are spending the public’s donations on the very best research. 

I once heard one of our researchers say that you have to develop a thick skin to deal with the rejections in academia. 

As a Research Grants officer, the worst part of my job is sending the rejection emails every six months, knowing how much time and effort has gone into each application.

There can be several reasons why your grant just missed out on being funded. We explore the three most common pitfalls below.

1. Not building the right team

One factor that may contribute to an unsuccessful application is not having the relevant dementia research expertise in your team. This often results in poor study design and a lack of experience of working with people affected by dementia.

Overall, this can lead to a project that has less impact. Weaker applications tend to have low publication productivity, lack of clarity around roles and how the team will work together. 

Creating a strong team is especially important in PhD Studentship and Fellowship applications where the Funding Board need to be convinced that the applicants will be well supported throughout their project. 

To strengthen this part of your application, check all of your co-applicants' CVs are fully completed. The application should provide plenty of details of everyone’s roles and contribution, including their experience of working in the field of dementia research.

We want to encourage researchers from other fields to apply, so ensuring you are connecting with experienced dementia researchers will significantly improve your chances.

2. Weak engagement and dissemination plans

This part of the application is commonly overlooked, especially in the biomedical applications we receive. Having strong engagement and dissemination plans will ensure that you have a well-designed study that reaches the relevant target audiences so your findings can have impact.

Weaker applications do not know who their target audience is, are unclear of what they want to achieve and focus only on the activity and not the changes or impact that will result from the project. 

We suggest that you have clear outcomes, outputs and impacts you are hoping to achieve. Additionally, it’s useful to include plans to ensure you will be engaging with the relevant knowledge users such as policy makers, clinicians and commissioners where relevant.

3. Relevance to 850,000 people affected by dementia

Underestimating the lay summary section can really set your application back against the rest. As well as peer review, we send your lay summaries for review with our Research Network volunteers.

Our volunteers all have personal experiences of dementia, living with the condition or as a carer or former carer. They often do not have a scientific background. Their comments and scores help decide whether your application is shortlisted.

After this stage, our Research Network grant advisory panels feed into the final funding decisions. The lay reviewers have a different perspective to the peer and Board reviewers and determine whether they think your research is of high priority to people affected by dementia.

Making sure your lay summary is accessible to all audiences and outlines how your project will help improve the lives of people affected by dementia will improve your chances of success.

Research Network top tips on writing a lay summary:

  • Include a glossary
  • Avoid using jargon language; use plain English and avoid the passive voice
  • Include a simple introduction outlining why this area of study is important
  • Ask yourself what the lay community need to know
  • Ask a family member or friends to read through your lay summary before you submit
  • Have you described context and other work in the field?

Support and guidance for applicants

Every application that is submitted is unique and there is no one right way to build a grant proposal. If in doubt, you can have a look through our applicant guidance for help. 

To find out more about our grant application process visit our website, or email our grants team.

Researchers: stay in the loop

Get information on the latest grant rounds in our quarterly email newsletter.

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